This morning saw a very disciplined Swiss back four hold a high line very effectively and step as a unit to catch Chile offside several times. It’s a risky venture though and they eventually got burned on a 50-50 call. If that hadn’t gone Chile’s way then they may still be scratching their heads on how to permeate the Swiss defense.
Portugal, on the other hand, very surely knew that North Korea would have a heavily fortified border (sorry) and would park the bus at the top of the box (one of their defenders may actually be named Park Yur Bus) a la Inter v Barcelona in the Champions League semi final.
There’s really only three solutions to breaching such tactics. The first is to rely on long range shots. Not a terrible option if you have people capable taking such shots and if you have the sort of rain that Portugal and North Korea faced today, it’s a even better idea. Plus all those bodies in the way make it difficult for keepers to see shots and increase the chances of fortuitous deflections.
The second way to beat the packed line of defenders along the 18 yard box is through quick ball movement to create a 1v1. If your attacker can beat the defender 1v1, it unbalances the defenders and forces a quick readjustment (read: a scramble). This penetration behind a defender opens up opportunities as teammates can now run past markers at the top of the box and look for slotted crosses from the teammate who has beaten their opponent.
The last way to get beyond these tactics was perfectly exemplified by Portugal on their opening goal against North Korea today. A timed run from midfield with a perfectly weighted pass into their path.
Here’s how it’s done (starts about 18 seconds in):
Parking the bus is a justifiable tactic if you’re down a man and facing a very strong team. Mourinho’s extreme example of it in the second leg against Barcelona when they went down to ten men at the Camp Nou in May, allowed Barcelona an unheard of 80% of the possession but their wall held and Barca’s insistence on sticking to their passing game fell flat because they couldn’t coax Inter out to give them a bit of room to play through.
It’s really no different trying to beat the offside trap: attack defenders 1v1 to take advantage of defenders that want to play with limited depth to catch opponents offside. Deep runs from midfield have also long been a mainstay of broaching this tactic.
With some luck other teams will demonstrate that you can beat the parked bus and offside trap with some individual skill and crafted passes as Portugal showed today and teams will rely less on a tactic that looks more like the New York Giants offensive line that something we like to see on a soccer field.